Phillies haven't contacted Hamels lately, but they can't chance losing him

Word came yesterday that the Phillies haven't recently contacted star lefthander Cole Hamels, who's going to be a free agent after the year.

Let's hope that means the Phillies are gearing up for a big offer because the thing that makes the Phillies special is the top of their pitching rotation -- namely, the big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Hamels. They can't take a chance of losing that. Hamels is also the only one of the big three to be in his 20s, making him extra valuable.

The other possibility, of course, is that the Phillies  are so spooked by the $112.5-million Matt Cain Giants extension that they aren't quite sure what to do. The Phillies offered Hamels "Jeff Weaver money,'' meaning $85 million over five years, at the end of last season. But now Cain has $127.5 million and six years to go on his deal, counting his $15-million 2012 salary.

Three prominent agents with no ties to Hamels estimated he'll get between $150 million and $175 million as a free agent. So $112.5 million could be considered a bargain, believe it or not. Hamels, who makes $15 million this year (like Cain), has said he'd entertain an offer in-season but wants to avoid the back-and-forth of negotiation.

By almost any measure, Hamels is at least as good as Cain, which puts Philly in a tough spot. Do they offer less and hope for the best? Or do they concede to Hamels' position all along that he should be paid somewhere in excess of $100 million. The obvious comp is teammate Lee, who has a $120-million, five-year deal. While Lee should be considered slightly better, he was three years older when he signed than Hamels is now, and Lee actually turned down $148 million from the Yankees before taking less from Philly.

The Phillies under CEO Dave Montogmery have been an admirable and successful organization, boosting their revenues to what may be near their limit and selling out just about every game. Their payroll is already on the cusp of luxury-tax territory.

Even so, they shouldn't take a chance of losing Hamels. The rotation is the reason the Phillies are considered the favorite of National League teams to win the World Series despite myriad issues and injuries to their star position players. One bookmaker had them at 5-1 to win the World series, easily the lowest odds among National League teams. The Phillies can't afford to surrender their strength.
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